NATO defence ministers in talks to boost posture in eastern Europe

NATO defence ministers are in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss plans to beef up its military presence in Europe amid the war in Ukraine.

“Ministers will start an important discussion on concrete measures to reinforce our security for the longer term in all domains,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

“On land, this could include substantially more forces in the eastern part of the alliance, at higher readiness and with more pre-positioned equipment,” he added.

He also said that increases to air and naval deployments are also to be considered such as the strengthening of integrated air and missile defense as well as the reinforcement of cyber defenses, and more military exercises for NATO partners.

Ahead of the meeting, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin sought to reassure allies of Washington’s continued support, stressing that “we’ve been clear throughout that we believe that our commitment to NATO, our Article 5 commitment, is iron-clad and you can expect as the president has said a number of times that we will abide by that commitment.”

Stoltenberg is scheduled to give an update on their discussions at 16:00 CET.

‘Unprovoked and unjustified’

Russia started its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, claiming its assault was necessary to protect civilian populations in disputed territory in eastern Ukraine and accusing the elected government in Kyiv of carrying out a genocide.

Ukraine and Western allies have flatly rejected these claims and condemned the invasion as “unprovoked and unjustified.”

In the months leading to the invasion, Moscow had stationed up to 150,000 troops along its shared border with Ukraine which had triggered high-level diplomatic talks with Washington over the deployment of NATO military equipment on its eastern flank. Russia argued these threatened its security and demanded NATO withdrew troops from some eastern European countries as well as provide guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will never be allowed to join the transatlantic alliance.

NATO allies responded to the invasion with coordinated sanctions against Russia while some members including the EU, US, UK and Canada have supplied Ukraine with lethal weapons to defend itself.

The alliance also bolstered its positions in eastern member states and strengthened air and naval patrols in the Baltic Sea.

NATO states boost commitments

Hundreds of thousands of NATO forces have been put on high alert while the US has increased its forces deployed across Europe from 80,000 in January to 100,000 — a level not seen since 2005.

Over a third of these US troops — 38,500 — are stationed in Germany while 12,000 are in Italy and 10,000 are in Poland and the UK each. There are 2,500 US troops in the three Baltics countries.

“Personnel are being deployed to reassure our NATO Allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO’s eastern flank, train with host-nation forces, and contribute to a wide range of contingencies,” the US European Command said in a statement, adding that “some of the forces are rotational so numbers will fluctuate over time.”

Some NATO allies, such as Germany, which were failing in their commitment to invest 2% of their GDP in defence have meanwhile announced they would boost their military expenditures.

According to NATO data, only 10 of the alliance’s member states spent the required 2% of GDP on defence in 2021. These are Greece, the US, Croatia, the UK, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and France.